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Pasts, Presents, Futures? Critical Approaches to Cultural Heritage in Central Asia

Dates: 5 to 23 September 2022

Course Fee: 650 Euros (DAAD GoEast Scholarships Available)

Deadline: 15 June 2022

Language: English and Tajik Language Lessons

Level: Undergraduate and Postgraduate

The project of building a Soviet state and the social engineering that went hand in hand with it had positive effects on the cultures and people of Central Asia, particularly in terms of education, development, and identity re-formation. These political project/policies involved a massive intervention in the historically grown social fabric and cultural landscapes in the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the states of Central Asia sought to return to their former traditions and lifestyles or at least to preserve their memory as part of their cultural heritage. But whose past is to be remembered, and whose traditions preserved? Even though the logic of the Soviet model of nation-state seemed the only perceivable form to express one's cultural identity, the content underwent sometimes radical changes. Religion returned to public life, monuments were erected for ‘indigenous’ heroes of the nation and other heritage sites were nominated and selected. In other instances, heritage objects went through a process of reinterpretation, diminished visibility, marginalisation, and even erasure. In approaching these dynamics, many questions come to mind: What can artefacts in museums tell us about discourses of heritage, ownership, and identity? How to think about the relationship between cultural heritage and national languages? What impact did the Soviet times have on Tajik and other languages in Central Asia? How have the role and cultural symbols of women and other social groups changed and how have they been adapted to post-independence nation-building? How do researchers and other actors in Central Asia perceive these previously fixed historical points, and are there challenges to the way history has been (re)written?

The aim of the summer school is therefore to bring together researchers, students, and other actors working on cultural heritage. Foreign and Tajik students, including participants from other Central Asian republics, will come together in a multidisciplinary summer school to gain a deeper understanding of the diversity of cultural heritage, as well as related historical narratives and social discourses that exist in Central Asia and beyond.

The second major aim of the summer school is to create a space for the participating students to reflect on their own positionalities as researchers by engaging with critical approaches to cultural heritage. One of several possible lenses would be a critical reconsideration of the experience and the remnants of empire. By aiming for a radical multiplicity, it becomes possible to conceive of a plurality of pasts, memories, or cultural traditions. These perceptions of the past also allow for a variety of paths leading forward into the future. Through a New Area Studies approach, which places great value on local forms of knowledge production, local languages, and dialogical research methods, the students will create dialogical research groups to investigate different perspectives on conserving, creating, and claiming cultural heritage.

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International students will be offered an intensive crash course in Tajik language which will use a combination of language lessons, tandems with local students, and small practical exercises in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. Beginners will receive tuition in basic conversational Tajik, while more advanced students with prior knowledge of another Persian language will further develop their pre-existing skills.

From the second week, students will be expected to conduct their own mini-research projects in small groups consisting of international students and students from the Aga Khan Humanities Project (AKHP), selecting one aspect of cultural heritage in Central Asia (for example a material object, language practice, religious practice, public place, etc.) and investigating its meaning and context. Thus, Tajik language is understood not only as an important tool for ‘grounded’ and context-sensitive studies on cultural heritage but serves as a specific form of heritage itself, also as a good entry point into the contested field of heritage politics in Central Asia. This assignment, which will contribute to the final assessment, will be complemented by a combination of lectures, workshops, discussions, reading circles, laboratories, expert forums, focus groups with researchers from the University of Central Asia and other international institutions, and excursions, supporting the students in critically examining topics relating to identity, space, language, material culture, and religion in the context of critical approaches to cultural heritage creation, consumption, and conservation.

While there will be a strong focus on anthropological and area studies methodologies, the students will be encouraged to try out new methodologies and select their approach specific to their chosen topic. To implement critical approaches to cultural heritage in Central Asia, students will attend a series of debate events which aim to introduce students to the Cross Debate Format (CDF): a Central Asian dialectic tool used to solve problems through discussion and the exchange of multiple perspectives and ideas. In these workshops, members of the AKHP Debate Club and the CDF Regional Debate Trainer will train students in various techniques used during CDF, accumulating in a joint debate in the final week.

The summer school will conclude with a public exhibition showcasing mini-research projects to a larger audience, ensuring that the acquired knowledge does not simply stay within the academic sphere. In this exhibition, students will present their projects in a multi-media format. The results of the projects will be stored after the end of the summer school in a digital knowledge archive which will act as a platform for future dialogical research projects between not only the participating students, but the wider academic environment of UCA and its partner universities in Central Asia and Europe.

For more information, please contact: akhp.dushanbe@ucentralasia.org.

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